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Though he might have been ranked second at any given moment to Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, or Harry James, Tommy Dorsey was overall the most popular bandleader of the swing era that lasted from 1935 to 1945. His remarkably melodic trombone playing was the signature sound of his orchestra, but he successfully straddled the hot and sweet styles of swing with a mix of ballads and novelty songs. He provided showcases to vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, and Jo Stafford, and he employed inventive arrangers such as Sy Oliver and Bill Finegan. He was the biggest-selling artist in the history of RCA Victor Records, one of the major labels, until the arrival of Elvis Presley, who was first given national exposure on the 1950s television show he hosted with his brother Jimmy.
Dorsey was 21 months younger than Jimmy and thus the second son of Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr., a music teacher and band director, and Theresa Langton Dorsey. Both brothers received musical instruction from their father. Tommy focused on the trombone, though he also played trumpet, especially early in his career. The brothers played in local groups, then formed their own band, Dorsey's Novelty Six, in 1920. By 1922, when they played an engagement at a Baltimore amusement park and made their radio debut, they were calling the group Dorsey's Wild Canaries. During the early and mid-'20s, they played in a series of bands including the Scranton Sirens, the California Ramblers, and orchestras led by Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman, sometimes apart, but usually together. Eventually, they settled in New York and worked as session musicians. In 1927, they began recording as the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra for OKeh Records, using pickup bands, and they first reached the charts with "Coquette" in June 1928. In the spring of 1929, they scored a Top Ten hit with "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)," which featured Bing Crosby on vocals.
The Dorseys finally organized a full-time band and signed to Decca Records in 1934. Hiring Bing Crosby's younger brother Bob Crosby as their vocalist, they scored a Top Ten hit with "I Believe in Miracles" in the late winter of 1935, quickly followed by "Tiny Little Fingerprints" (vocal by Kay Weber) and "Night Wind" (vocal by Bob Crosby). They then enjoyed successive number one hits with "Lullaby of Broadway" (vocal by Bob Crosby) and "Chasing Shadows" (vocal by Bob Eberly, Bob Crosby's replacement). The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra was poised to become the biggest band in the country in the spring of 1935 and might have been remembered for launching the swing era, but at the end of May the brothers, whose relationship was always volatile, disagreed, and Tommy left the band (which nevertheless scored another Top Ten hit with "Every Little Movement" that summer). Jimmy Dorsey continued to lead the band, which eventually was billed as Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra and went on to considerable success. But while the Dorseys stumbled, Benny Goodman achieved national success and was dubbed "the King of Swing."
Tommy Dorsey took over the remnants of the Joe Haymes band in founding his own orchestra in the fall of 1935. Signing to RCA Victor Records, he scored an immediate success with "On Treasure Island" (vocal by Edythe Wright), which topped the charts in December 1935, one of four Dorsey records to peak in the Top Ten before the end of the year. Dorsey was back at number one in January 1936 with "The Music Goes Round and Round" (vocal by Edythe Wright) and topped the charts again in February with "Alone" (vocal by Cliff Weston). "You" (vocal by Edythe Wright) gave him his third number one in 1936, to which can be added eight other Top Ten hits during the year. Dorsey was even more successful in 1937, a year in which he scored 18 Top Ten hits, among them the chart-toppers "Marie" (vocal by Jack Leonard), "Satan Takes a Holiday" (an instrumental), "The Big Apple," "Once in a While," and "The Dipsy Doodle" (vocal by Edythe Wright). Dorsey earned his own radio series, which ran for nearly three years. His 15 Top Ten hits in 1938 included the number one "Music, Maestro, Please" (vocal by Edythe Wright), and he had another 11 Top Ten hits in 1939, among them "Our Love" (vocal by Jack Leonard), which hit number one.
Notwithstanding his commercial success, Dorsey made important changes in his band in late 1939, particularly in his vocalists. Jack Leonard left the band in November, and Dorsey hired Frank Sinatra away from Harry James. Longtime female singer Edythe Wright also departed, replaced by Connie Haines, and the vocal quartet the Pied Pipers, featuring Jo Stafford, also joined Dorsey. The success only continued with the new members. Dorsey scored ten Top Ten hits in 1940, among them the chart-toppers "Indian Summer" and "All the Things You Are" (both with vocals by Leonard) as well as "I'll Never Smile Again" (with vocals by Sinatra and the Pied Pipers). For the year, he ranked second behind Glenn Miller as the top recording artist. He dropped to third place behind Miller and his brother Jimmy in 1941, a year in which he scored another ten Top Ten hits, eight of them featuring Sinatra, including the number one hit "Dolores" from the film Las Vegas Nights, released in March, in which the band appeared.
The year 1942 was a challenging one for Dorsey. The U.S. had entered World War II in December 1941, which put pressure on the big bands particularly in terms of changing personnel and travel difficulties. On August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians called a strike that prevented musicians from entering recording studios. Frank Sinatra left the band in September to launch a solo career, and the Pied Pipers were gone by the end of the year. Nevertheless, Dorsey carried on, putting the band into a second motion picture, Ship Ahoy, which opened in June, and scoring four Top Ten hits, which, with his other chart entries, was enough to rank him fifth among the year's top recording artists. He earned the same ranking in the transitional year of 1943, despite being shut out of the recording studios, managing another four Top Ten hits, among them "There Are Such Things" and "In the Blue of the Evening," chart-toppers Sinatra recorded with the band before his departure. Meanwhile, Dorsey turned to film roles to keep active, appearing in three movies released during 1943: Presenting Lily Mars, DuBarry Was a Lady, and Girl Crazy.
By 1944, RCA Victor had exhausted its stockpile of unissued Dorsey recordings and had to resort to reissues, managing Top Ten hits with the 1938 instrumental "Boogie Woogie" and the 1940 recording "I'll Be Seeing You" with Sinatra on vocals. Dorsey remained in Hollywood, appearing in Broadway Rhythm, which opened in April. The settlement of the musicians' union strike in the fall allowed him to return to the recording studio, and he scored six Top Ten hits in 1945 as a result, also placing an album, Getting Sentimental, in the newly instituted album charts. In May, he appeared in the film Thrill of a Romance. Dorsey scored another Top Ten album with Show Boat, containing songs from the Broadway musical, in February 1946.
The big bands were in decline, and like some of his peers, Dorsey broke up his band in December 1946. But his All-Time Hits was in the Top Ten of the album charts in February 1947, and in March "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" (vocal by Stuart Foster) entered the singles charts to become a Top Ten hit. Dorsey reorganized his band, and in May he played himself in a largely fictionalized film biography, The Fabulous Dorseys. Clambake Seven, an album of music by Dorsey's small group, reached the Top Ten in October 1948, the same month he appeared in the film A Song Is Born, and the following month he was back in the Top Ten of the singles charts with "Until" (vocal by Harry Prime). In the spring of 1949, he had a double-sided Top Ten hit with "The Hucklebuck" (vocal by Charlie Shavers)/"Again" (vocal by Marcy Lutes). The compilation album And the Band Sings Too was in the Top Ten in September, and Dorsey returned to the Top Ten of the album charts with Tommy Dorsey Plays Cole Porter in April 1950. His final film appearance came in Disc Jockey in September 1951.
Dorsey switched to Decca Records and continued to perform with his band in the early '50s. In May 1953, Jimmy Dorsey broke up his band and joined his brother's orchestra as a featured attraction; before long, the band was again being billed as the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. While playing a residency at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York, the brothers launched a television series, Stage Show, as a summer replacement program in the summer of 1954. It returned on an occasional basis during the 1954-1955 season and ran regularly once a week during the 1955-1956 season. Elvis Presley appeared on the show for six consecutive weeks starting in January 1956, his first nationally broadcast appearances. Sedated by sleeping pills following a heavy meal, Dorsey accidentally choked to death at the age of 51. His brother led his band briefly afterward, but Jimmy Dorsey died in 1957. Nevertheless, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra continued to record and perform, and under the direction of Warren Covington it scored a final million-selling Top Ten hit in November 1958 with "Tea for Two Cha Cha."
Billed as "the sentimental gentleman of swing," Tommy Dorsey successfully combined the hot and sweet aspects of swing music while leading a band that consistently ranked among the top two or three orchestras in the U.S. from the mid-'30s to the mid-'40s, the entire swing era. His band was peopled with major jazz instrumentalists (including Bunny Berigan, Ziggy Elman, Pee Wee Erwin, Max Kaminsky, Buddy Rich, Charlie Shavers, and Dave Tough), arrangers (including Sy Oliver and Paul Weston), and singers (including Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford) who went on to define popular music in the late '40s and early '50s. He was also an accomplished trombone player whose distinctive sound dominated his band and recordings. The bulk of those recordings were made for RCA Victor, though some later work was done for Decca and Columbia, and of course there are numerous airchecks, making for a large discography.
Thomas Francis "Tommy" Dorsey, Jr. (November 19, 1905 - November 26, 1956) was an American jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing", due to his smooth-toned trombone playing. Although he was not known for being a notable soloist, his technical skill on the trombone gave him renown amongst other musicians. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey. After Dorsey broke with his brother in the mid-1930s, he led an extremely popular and highly successful band from the late 1930s into the 1950s.
Early life 
Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr., was born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the second of four children born to Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr., and Theresa (née Langton) Dorsey. He and Jimmy, his older brother by slightly less than two years, would become famous as the "Dorsey Brothers". The two younger siblings were Mary and Edward (who died young). Tommy Dorsey initially studied the trumpet with his father, only to later switch to the trombone.
At age 15, Jimmy recommended Tommy as the replacement for Russ Morgan in the 1920s territory band "The Scranton Sirens." Tommy and Jimmy worked in several bands, including those of Tal Henry, Rudy Vallee, Vincent Lopez, Nathaniel Shilkret. In 1923, Dorsey followed his brother Jimmy to Detroit to play in Jean Goldkette's band and later returned to New York in 1925 to play with the California Ramblers. In 1927 he joined Paul Whiteman. In 1929, the Dorsey Brothers had their first hit with "Coquette" for OKeh records.
In 1934, the Dorsey Brothers band signed with Decca records, having a hit with "I Believe In Miracles". Future bandleader Glenn Miller was a member of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in 1934 and 1935, composing "Annie's Cousin Fanny", "Tomorrow's Another Day", "Harlem Chapel Chimes", and "Dese Dem Dose", all recorded for Decca, for the band. Ongoing acrimony between the brothers, however, led to Tommy Dorsey's walking out to form his own band in 1935, just as the orchestra was having a hit with "Every Little Moment." Dorsey's orchestra was known primarily for its renderings of ballads at dance tempos, frequently with singers such as Jack Leonard and Frank Sinatra.
His own band 
Tommy Dorsey's first band was formed out of the remains of the Joe Haymes band, and so began Dorsey's long-running practice of raiding other bands for talent. If he admired a vocalist, musician, or arranger, he would think nothing of taking over their contracts and careers. Dorsey had a reputation for being a perfectionist. He was volatile and also known to hire and fire (and sometimes rehire) musicians based on his mood. The new band was popular from almost the moment it signed with RCA Victor with "On Treasure Island", the first of four hits for the new band in 1935. After his 1935 recording however, Dorsey's manager cut the "hot jazz" that Dorsey had mixed with his own lyrical style and instead had Dorsey play pop and vocal tunes. Dorsey would keep his Clambake Seven as a Dixieland group that played during performances, too. The Dorsey band had a national radio presence in 1936, first from Dallas and then from Los Angeles. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra took over comedian Jack Pearl's radio show in 1937.
By 1939, Dorsey was aware of criticism that his band lacked a jazz feeling. He hired arranger Sy Oliver away from the Jimmie Lunceford band. Sy Oliver's arrangements include "On The Sunny Side of the Street" and "T.D.'s Boogie Woogie"; Oliver also composed two of the new band's signature instrumentals, "Well, Git It" and "Opus One". In 1940, Dorsey hired singer Frank Sinatra from bandleader Harry James. Frank Sinatra made eighty recordings from 1940 to 1942 with the Dorsey band. Two of those eighty songs are "In The Blue of Evening" and "This Love of Mine". Frank Sinatra achieved his first great success as a vocalist in the Dorsey band and claimed he learned breath control from watching Dorsey play trombone. In turn, Dorsey said his trombone style was heavily influenced by that of Jack Teagarden. Among Dorsey's staff of arrangers was Axel Stordahl who arranged for Frank Sinatra in his Columbia and Capitol records years. Another member of the Dorsey band was trombonist Nelson Riddle, who later had a partnership as one of Sinatra's arrangers and conductors in the 1950s and afterwards. Another noted Dorsey arranger, who in the 1950s, married and was professionally associated with Dorsey veteran Jo Stafford, was Paul Weston. Bill Finegan, an arranger who left Glenn Miller's civilian band, arranged for the Tommy Dorsey band from 1942 to 1950.
The band featured a number of future famous instrumentalists, singers and arrangers in the 1930s and '40s, including trumpeters Zeke Zarchy, Bunny Berigan, Ziggy Elman, Carl "Doc" Severinsen, and Charlie Shavers, pianists Milt Raskin, Jess Stacy, clarinetists Buddy DeFranco, Johnny Mince, and Peanuts Hucko. Others who played with Dorsey were drummers Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Dave Tough saxophonist Tommy Reed, and singers Frank Sinatra, Jack Leonard, Edythe Wright, Jo Stafford with The Pied Pipers, Dick Haymes and Connie Haines. In 1944, Dorsey hired The Sentimentalists who replaced The Pied Pipers. Dorsey also performed with singer Connee Boswell Dorsey hired ex-bandleader and drummer Gene Krupa after Krupa's arrest and scandal for marijuana possession in 1943. In 1942 Artie Shaw broke up his band and Dorsey hired the Shaw string section. As George Simon in Metronome magazine notes at the time, "They're used in the foreground and background (note some of the lovely obbligatos) for vocal effects and for Tommy's trombone."
As Dorsey became successful, he made business decisions in the music industry. He loaned Glenn Miller money to launch Miller's successful band of 1938, but Dorsey saw the loan as an investment, entitling him to a percentage of Miller's income. When Miller balked at this, the angry Dorsey got even by sponsoring a new band led by Bob Chester, and hiring arrangers who deliberately copied Miller's style and sound. Dorsey branched out in the mid-1940s and owned two music publishing companies, Sun and Embassy. After opening at the Los Angeles ballroom, The Hollywood Palladium, on the Palladium's first night, Dorsey's relations with the ballroom soured and he opened a competing ballroom, The Casino Gardens circa 1944. Dorsey also owned for a short time a trade magazine called The Bandstand.
Tommy Dorsey disbanded his own orchestra at the end of 1946. Dorsey might have broken up his own band permanently following World War II, as many big bands did due to the shift in music economics following the war, but Tommy Dorsey's album for RCA, "All Time Hits" placed in the top ten records in February 1947. In addition, "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?", a single recorded by Dorsey, became a top-ten hit in March 1947. Both of these successes made it possible for Dorsey to re-organize a big band in early 1947. The Dorsey brothers were also reconciling. The biographical film of 1947, The Fabulous Dorseys describes sketchy details of how the brothers got their start from-the-bottom-up into the jazz era of one-nighters, the early days of radio in its infancy stages, and the onward march when both brothers ended up with Paul Whiteman before 1935 when The Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra split into two. In the early 1950s, Tommy Dorsey moved from RCA Victor back to the Decca record label.
Jimmy Dorsey broke up his own big band in 1953. Tommy invited him to join up as a feature attraction and a short while later, Tommy renamed the band the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Jimmy Dorsey. In 1953, the Dorseys focused their attention on television. On December 26, 1953, the brothers appeared with their orchestra on Jackie Gleason's CBS television show, which was preserved on kinescope and later released on home video by Gleason. The brothers took the unit on tour and onto their own television show, Stage Show, from 1955 to 1956. On numerous episodes, they introduced future noted rock musician Elvis Presley to national television audiences, prior to Presley's better known appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Married life 
Dorsey's married life was varied and, at times, lurid. His first wife was 16-year-old Mildred Kraft, with whom he eloped in 1922, when he was 17. They had two children, Patricia and Tom (nicknamed "Skipper"). They divorced in 1943 after Dorsey's affair with his former singer Edythe Wright. He then wed movie actress Pat Dane in 1943, and they were divorced in 1947, but not before he gained headlines for striking actor Jon Hall when Hall embraced Dorsey's wife. Finally, Dorsey married Jane Carl New on March 27, 1948, in Atlanta, Georgia. She had been a dancer at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. Tommy and Jane Dorsey had two children, Catherine Susan and Steve.
Death and aftermath 
On November 26, 1956, Tommy Dorsey died at age 51 in his Greenwich, Connecticut, home. He had eaten a heavy meal and began choking in his sleep. Dorsey began taking sleeping pills regularly at this time; therefore, he was so sedated that he was unable to awaken and died from choking. Jimmy Dorsey led his brother's band until his own death from lung cancer the following year. At that point, trombonist Warren Covington assumed leadership of the band with Jane Dorsey's blessing as she owned the rights to her late husband's band and name. Billed as the "Tommy Dorsey Orchestra Starring Warren Covington", they topped the charts in 1958 with "Tea For Two Cha-Cha". After Covington led the band for a short period, Sam Donahue led it starting in 1961, continuing until the late 1960s. Buddy Morrow conducted the Tommy Dorsey orchestra until his death on September 27, 2010. Jane Dorsey died of natural causes at the age of 79, in Miami, Florida in 2003. Tommy and Jane Dorsey are interred together in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
Number one hits 
Tommy Dorsey had a run of 286 Billboard chart hits. The Dorsey band had seventeen number one hits with his orchestra in the 1930s and 1940s including: "On Treasure Island", "The Music Goes 'Round and Around", "You", "Marie" (written by Irving Berlin), "Satan Takes a Holiday", "The Big Apple", "Once in a While", "The Dipsy Doodle", "Our Love", "All the Things You Are", "Indian Summer", and "Dolores". He had two more number one hits in 1935 when he was a member of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra: "Lullaby of Broadway", number one for two weeks, and "Chasing Shadows", number one for three weeks. His biggest hit was "I'll Never Smile Again", featuring Frank Sinatra on vocals, which was number one for twelve weeks on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1940. "In the Blue of Evening" was number 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1943.
Songs written by Tommy Dorsey Written in 1929: "You Can't Cheat A Cheater" with Phil Napoleon and Frank Signorelli1932: "Three Moods"1937: "The Morning After"1938: "Chris and His Gang" with Fletcher and Horace Henderson; Tommy Dorsey wrote the song "Peckin' With Penguins" for a 1938 Frank Tashlin-directed Porky Pig cartoon, "Porky's Spring Planting" for the studio Warner Bros.1939: "To You", "This Is No Dream", "You Taught Me To Love Again", "In The Middle Of A Dream", "Night In Sudan"1945: "Fluid Jive" and "Fried Chicken"1946: "Nip and Tuck"1947: "Trombonology"Co-wrote "Bunch of Beats", "Mid Riff", and "Candied Yams" with Fred Norman.
Honors and posthumous recognition 
In 1982, the 1940 Victor recording "I'll Never Smile Again" was the first of a trio of Tommy Dorsey recordings to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. His theme song, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" was inducted in 1998, along with his recording of "Marie" written by Irving Berlin in 1928. In 1996, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey commemorative postage stamp.
Filmography Segar Ellis and His Embassy Club Orchestra (1929)needs citationAlice Bolden and Her Orchestra (1929)
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra appear in the following films for the studios Paramount, MGM, Samuel Goldwyn, Allied Artists and United Artists:Las Vegas Nights (1941)Ship Ahoy (1942)Presenting Lily Mars(1943)Girl Crazy (1943)Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)Thrill of a Romance (1945)The Great Morgan (1946)The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)A Song Is Born (1948)Disc Jockey (1951)
The Dorsey Brothers appear in the 1953 sixteen-minute Universal-International film called The Dorsey Brothers Encore.
Grammy Hall of Fame 
Tommy Dorsey was posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have "qualitative or historical significance."